A lot was going on in this game. Auston Matthews scored goals #67 and #68. The special teams were all-around awful. Ilya Samsonov allowed six goals on 20 shots to an undermanned Devils lineup.

If there was any hope of the Leafs chasing down home-ice advantage in the first round, those hopes all but ended tonight. 

Your game in 10:

1.   This game got off to a fast and furious start as the Leafs scored 18 seconds into the game. In his first few games since returning from a reported high-ankle sprain, Mitch Marner was understandably a little tentative, building back some confidence in his skating. He has slowly improved each game as he looks more comfortable and came out flying to start this game. He was quick and assertive early, pressuring John Marino in the neutral zone to create a turnover and then winning the race to the loose puck before finding John Tavares in the slot.

Tavares made a little hesitation move to help settle down the bouncing puck instead of trying to one-time the rolling puck — for a second, it looked like he overplayed his hand — but he was able to regroup on the puck and sweep a shot through Jake Allen’s legs as he was going down.

Since Marner has returned and this line has been put together, they have started the first shift in three of the team’s four games. This was a great start for them, giving Marner a four-game point streak and counting since returning.

2.   As good a start as it should have been for the overall team, the Leafs gave the goal right back 21 seconds later when the Auston Matthews line was on the ice with the TJ Brodie and Joel Edmundson pairing. A trio of weak plays by Brodie led to the goal.

The first came on the initial dump-in; he carried the puck around the net and made a weak play up the wall under pressure. When the puck trickled to the corner, the defenseman pinched down, and Max Domi tried to run some interference. Domi probably didn’t go into the corner because the Leafs don’t ask their wingers to go that low, but it allowed the Devils to stuff the breakout. Right afterward, Brodie got it back, but then he gave it away again, this time leading to a shot in the high slot for the Devils.

On the rebound, Brodie had the puck on his stick yet again and held it while attempting to make a play rather than shooting it away from danger altogether (into the corner or something) and living to fight another play. The puck was then poked to Erik Haula in the slot, and Ilya Samsonov was caught out of position, leading to an easy shot into the empty net.

Matthews was around the whole sequence, and Domi could have done better on the wall, but realistically, this was a super casual shift from Brodie after a goal, which promptly resulted in a tie game.

3.   Five and a half minutes later, the Leafs took the lead again. After a poor first shift by the Auston Matthews line, they started tilting the ice and were quickly rewarded with a goal.

It was a bit of a microcosm of what we have come to expect from the trio and why they’ve meshed so well together thus far. Tyler Bertuzzi was in on the forecheck working the wall in a battle, leading to a giveaway up the wall to Brodie. Brodie flipped the puck back down, and Max Domi, who has been the playmaker of the line, made a great play to bat the puck down to himself out of mid-air. He instantly knew where to find Matthews in the high slot, and Matthews — the finisher of the line — did what he does best.

That’s 67 goals, and just as impressive as that number is this fact:

4.   This time, at least it took a few minutes, but once again, the Leafs gave a goal right back.

There’s nothing to really break down on the 2-2 goal. Mark Giordano had time and space but threw a pizza right up the middle, giving Nolan Foote a breakaway. Samsonov was caught off guard by the giveaway and clearly wasn’t set, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him deked out as he scrambled. But the story of the goal is the bad giveaway and the Leafs giving up two gifts early in the game.

This is coming up repeatedly, but the Leafs’ defense must play simple hockey. They are not talented enough to continually try to make plays on breakouts. While we can argue about classifying a puck-off-the-glass as a giveaway, you’d rather do it and have a team regroup at center than give up a puck below the top of the circle that instantly turns into a goal.

5.   About a minute later, it looked like Nick Robertson regained the lead for the Leafs on a great sequence between him and Pontus Holmberg, where Holmberg faked a slapshot and then slid it to Robertson on his strong side. Robertson pulled it backhand for a nice finish.

The goal was challenged for offside, and while it was offside by a couple of inches, it didn’t impact the play in any capacity, and this rule will forever be terrible. Instead, the Devils took the lead later in the period. This time, it was a power-play goal.

With Connor Dewar back in the lineup, I was curious to see how the Leafs would configure their units. Even with Dewar in the lineup, it was David KampfMitch Marner starting, and just like in New Jersey a few nights earlier, they were scored on again.

When Marner was injured, the Leafs’ penalty kill started to roll with Dewar on the top unit alongside Kampf. Their calling card was their aggression. They used their speed to disrupt power-play formations and prevent teams from settling in. On this goal, as the puck was worked around on the side where Kampf was, he applied pressure — he even gave Luke Hughes a little hit on the point — but when the puck went to Marner’s side, he applied none. Marner doesn’t challenge Hughes at all:

Hughes passed it to Bratt, who had the time and space to spin and pass the puck across his body. Timo Meier stepped into a one-timer that Samsonov couldn’t get to.

6.    Later in the period, the Leafs went to a power play of their own, where — as has become all too commonplace — they traded chances. William Nylander went on a mini breakaway, and the Devils created a 3v2 chance the other way.

Once the second period started, the Leafs cleaned up some of their lackadaisical play and started to tilt the ice. They drew another power play a minute into the period and again couldn’t capitalize. They were able to gain the zone and start zipping the puck around a bit better, but they really seem disconnected right now in terms of what they are trying to create and who they are trying to set up.

When the game returned to 5v5, the Leafs started creating looks. Keefe has put together a Marner—Tavares—Nylander line in the past few games to complement the Matthews unit. Approaching the halfway point of the period, the Matthews line scored to tie the game, and once again, it was #34 finding the net.

Off the rush, Domi tried to thread the needle backdoor to Bertuzzi, and while the pass didn’t connect, Bertuzzi was first to the loose puck. Bertuzzi found Domi all alone in the far corner of the zone, where Domi had an eternity to wait for Matthews to get to the right spot in the crease and zip a pass through for a tap-in.

This was about as easy as it gets for both players. That’s #68 for Matthews, and mercifully, it guarantees that he won’t end the season with 67 goals on the dot.

7.    Not even a minute and a half later, the Leafs retook the lead again.

Matthew Knies has been on the fourth line with David Kampf for the past few games. I’m not sure if there’s anything to it or if it’s just a byproduct of the line shuffling at this point in the season, but Knies has been dominating matchups on this line while playing against weaker players down the lineup.

Knies started the sequence on this goal, skating the puck in deep and holding it to allow his linemates time to join him in the zone. As Knies got pasted against the boards, Kampf arrived and disrupted the play, so the puck went around the net, where Dewar followed it up.

I’m not entirely sure Dewar knew he was passing it tape to tape, but he sent a no-look backhand in front to Kampf, who was all alone. Kampf made a really nice move — looking like a goal scorer! — to pull it backhand-forehand and tuck the puck in.

That’s Kampf’s eighth goal of the season (he scored seven all of last season). Knies didn’t pick an assist on the goal, but he made the play happen.

8.    Looking to extend the lead, the Leafs continued to push, and on another offensive shift by the Matthews line, Matthews got tangled up with Simon Nemec. Truthfully, there wasn’t much to it, but he touched Matthews and Max Domi took exception.

Domi decidedly won the fight. In a game where Ryan Reaves wasn’t playing, the Devils were clearly a little braver than usual, as Kurtis MacDermid, in particular, was running around all night (and even labeled Morgan Rielly with a big hit in the first period). The Leafs didn’t have a heavyweight to match him, and he took advantage of it.

The Leafs couldn’t get the next goal before, late in the period, a weak call was made on TJ Brodie to give the Devils a late power play. The Leafs were doing a good job killing it off—it looked like they were going to escape the period—but the Devils forced a late offensive-zone faceoff with about 15 seconds left.

There was an initial scrum off the draw, but if we rewatch how Hischier approached it, he wasn’t even trying to win it to the middle of the ice; he was attempting to win it to the defenseman on the boards. The puck deflected and laid nicely for Meier in the high slot, where he walked in and stepped into the shot, firing it far corner and in. There wasn’t much Samsonov could do about this one.

9.   Domi picked up the instigator penalty for his fight, which meant Mitch Marner moved up in his spot alongside Tyler Bertuzzi and Auston Matthews. They continued to create chances to start the third, and in one play in particular, Matthews slid one to Bertuzzi in front, but he couldn’t bury it.

Nylander, currently in a seven-game goalless drought, was around the action all night with five shots on net (plus a cross-ice one-timer he missed off a Marner pass in the second). The Devils didn’t have much going, but again, the Leafs couldn’t find the next one before Matthews took an offensive-zone penalty.

The Leafs’ penalty kill got off to a good start, but when the second unit with Holmberg-Nylander came on the ice, the Devils entered the zone and Nylander fell. It disjointed the Leafs’ PK unit as now Simon Benoit stepped up to essentially play a forward role in Nylander’s place while Nylander went to play defense.

As they started rotating, the Devils scored a simple one-timer play between Hughes and Bratt. It was not a good goal on Ilya Samsonov. There was barely a screen, it wasn’t deflected, the puck was along the ice, and it went right through him.

Samsonov didn’t have a chance on most of the goals — and this game got off to a bad start to the point where it seemed as though he never really settled down — but it was the fifth goal he allowed on his first 18 shots against. There were some really nice finishes and bad breakdowns in the mix, but at the same time, he is allowed to make good saves at some point. He didn’t tonight.

10.   The Leafs generally outplayed the Devils but couldn’t kill a penalty tonight. When back to five-on-five, they tilted the ice while down a goal.

Mitch Marner had a play in front where he tried going through his legs (twice), and Bobby McMann just missed the rebound. With Max Domi back from his instigator penalty, he returned to Auston Matthews‘ line, which almost scored immediately. Tyler Bertuzzi made a great toe-drag move off the rush, and after he got stopped, Domi was turned aside on the rebound.

Eventually, the Leafs’ pressure paid off. Keefe placed Marner on the point with Morgan Rielly off an offensive-zone faceoff, and while the Devils got the puck down the ice, those two teamed up for a clean breakout and entry into the zone.

Marner cut through the neutral zone and saucered a little pass to the boards to Rielly, who was streaking in. Rielly burst in with speed and made a nice pass to John Tavares in the slot, where the Leafs captain buried his second of the night. The 26th of the season for Tavares tied it up late with just under five minutes left.

11.   You’d like to think that the Leafs would at least collect a point at this stage, and if anything, it was Toronto pushing for the regulation win. They loaded up with a Marner – Tavares – Nylander shift — something they’ve done throughout the past two games — and forced an offensive-zone faceoff out of it. They followed it up with the Matthews line, but Jesper Bratt grabbed the puck off the ensuing faceoff and streaked down the right wing.

The game-losing sequence featured a few issues. First, Joel Edmundson was cleanly beaten down the wall. The best thing we can say about Edmundson’s game tonight is that he got it out of the way and hopefully shook off some rust in the process.

Now defending a 3v2, Bertuzzi back-checked hard, and Brodie signaled for Bertuzzi to take the far-side player while he slid over. Brodie was a bit late sliding over, and Bratt ripped a great shot into the far side for the late game-winner. It’s a stretch to suggest this goal was Samsonov’s fault, but it’s six goals on 20 shots, and he was a tad deep in his net.

The Leafs made a push again to tie it up and went to a power play — including a good cross-ice attempt that just missed — but they didn’t have enough time left to recover.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights